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Global Banking & Finance Review recently conversed with Farhad Irani the Executive Vice President & Head of Retail Banking Group, Mashreq Bank.



Mashreq has been providing banking services since 1967 and is the UAEs largest and fastest growing privately owned financial institution with operations in 12 countries focused on providing customers access to innovative products and service and are committed to leading the UAE banking industry. Farhad Irani is presently the EVP and Group Head of Retail Banking at Mashreq. He has over 29 years work experience in the payments , retail banking and e commerce space having held senior executive positions at PayPal ( a division of eBay inc- as Asia executive ) , Standard Chartered Bank (Global Head Credit cards and Personal Loans ) , Citibank Japan (Chief Marketing Officer ) , Korea Exchange Bank ( Chief Marketing officer ). He has lived and worked in India, Indonesia, S Korea, Japan, Singapore, H Kong and just recently Dubai .Considers Asia home. He is passionate about starting up and turning around companies in distress, garnering highly effective management teams, defining strategic deliverables and executing meticulously. Here he gives a look at his experience at Mashreq and provides us with some insight to this leading retail bank.

Hi Farhad, can you tell us about your experience and role at Mashreq?
Exhilarating with never a moment’s pause – Mashreq is a unique institution with unique people. It decides fast and executes well with an ability to change course quickly. It is right sized, increasingly successful and proud in that it is becoming the university of retail banking in the GCC! My role has been refreshing as the Head of the Retail Banking Group  here given that I moved from Asia , from multinationals ( Stanchart and Citi ) from E commerce ( PayPal ) to the largest ,strongest , fastest growing privately owned financial institution in the UAE. It’s a tough job given banking intensity and constant dynamic change in the environment but the rewards come as quick. “Best Retail Bank” and most “Innovative Retail Bank” awards accorded in 2012 and 2013 respectively – The Banker. Profits have more than doubled year on year, balance sheet has grown 25 %, we have been voted the best service provider by the Gulf News and our employee engagement is at an all-time high of 4.2. 2013 will be the best year at Mashreq Retail in its 46 year history. And a prelude to an even better 2014.

As a leader in retail banking in the UAE what initiatives do you feel have contributed to your success?
Making dramatic changes in the first 100 days (we removed and rehired 800 people ) , identifying and hiring the best retail management team in the UAE – 330 years of combined retail experience garnered from Asia , ME and Europe, the creation of really strong bundled propositions – Majestic and Max , simplification of all internal processes to deliver “servant management” to the front line via Lean principles , strong risk management partnership with business , dedication to digital and mobile technologies . We stabilized in 2011, we grew in 2012, and we innovated in 2013.

What is Mashreq’s Retail Banking strategy for 2013?
To deliver target profitability, target service and target growth. Our strategy is to offer value differentiation via the focus on service and digital technologies. Our ethos is to constantly change – we have converted our 48 branch network into an “apple like” in store experience. Strong development on the people side and progress measured very closely using data packed milestones. We are also well on the way to becoming leaders in Customer Service.

Can you tell us about the Q1 financials for Mashreq’s retail banking and what it demonstrates?
Delighted to share with you the phenomenal performance by Retail Banking in the first quarter of 2013. It is not an everyday event to stand up and say, “We increased profit year on year by a whopping 464 %!” It is truly the result of the tremendous turnaround that every member in Retail Banking has so painstakingly delivered working in close collaboration with our business partners in other departments and businesses. We are well and truly on our way to create history as the best Retail Bank in the Region in terms of profitability, service and innovation. Team’s  efforts delivered a very smart Q1 result: AED 373 mio in revenue (up 24 % with, FER doubling), Costs at AED 235 mio (up 4 % so positive jaws of 6 X!), Risk charge at AED 48 mio (better by 35%, a true reflection of a much cured portfolio) and hence profit of AED 106 million! We have upped our overall forecast for 2013 to a brilliant gross profit of AED 450 mio. Up by AED 120 mio from the 2013 plan of AED 330 mio. Our Bank as a whole has delivered a promising 57% jump in bottom line this Q1 and you will be pleased to know that the large part of this turn around came from the Retail turnaround. Phase 1 is now complete. We are moving forward… fast and furious!

Mashreq hosts many innovative products and services. Can you provide details on a few, including the E Cube Retail Concept and Mashreq Max?
The innovations we are most proud of are our E Cube ( digital in branch experience using Microsoft 8 ) , PayPort ( remote access card acceptance on NFC ) , mobile enabled payments , Mashreq Max (that’s a bank on a tablet offered to the up market customer set ) and the best universal rewards program “ Salaam “ that is redeemed online at  merchant point of sale or via airline partners .

What unique products and services have been created in direct response to customers’ needs and wants?
Mashreq products are truly one of a kind financial solutions that are designed to cater the diverse needs of our customers. For instance, Majestic , Max bundles , cross border mortgages , Tap and Go facility , co brand credit cards such as Etisalat Mashreq card and Grand Entertainment Mashreq card, best in class mobile and online banking. Our products are built around customer centricity and innovation.

Customer relations are very important in retail banking, how do you ensure customers are receiving the best customer experience available?
By simplifying and delivering to the front line , by following zero defect “ kaizen “ philosophy , by putting in place very clear end to end SLAs , via month tracking of service on the basis of ‘ first point resolution scores “ , internal e2e measurements and quarterly external NPS based assessments and a huge number of transaction analysis and dip tests . We also conducted customer round tables recently to attain qualitative feedback.

How has online banking changed the way business is conducted inside branch locations?
Yes indeed – 30 000 transactions at branch, 300 000 on online baking and 600 000 unique visits on our website every month. Online banking drives convenience, enhanced usage, consolidation of wallet share and cost economization. It is definitely the way forward for banking.

More and more UAE residents are taking the advantage of online banking and the convenience it offers to the customers.  In the last two year, we have seen a significant market shift to online and mobile banking. Many banks have enhanced their security, simplified their online processes and empowered their online banking solution with additional features to provide beyond banking services. This have not only increased the users, but also increase the number of transaction to reach in some banks more than 70%”.

As the number of the users rise, customers begin to see the convenience of banking online and the rich services it offers. Many customers are now depending on online banking for almost everything, including accounts overview, utility and bills payment, money transfer and many more.  In many banks more than 50% of the bank total transactions are happening via online and mobile banking. This reflects the importance of these channels to every bank.

What are your feelings on Corporate Social Responsibility?
Our commitment towards Corporate Social Responsibility comes from our core values and aims to support and contribute to the communities we operate in. At Mashreq, we believe it’s our responsibility to give back and to be equally responsible and we take it very serious.

We devote most of our time towards volunteering. The role of volunteering is invaluable in today’s society and it is important to raise public awareness in this area. We constantly encourage our staff to volunteer and share their knowledge and experience to create an engaged community. Throughout the year, we try to participate in significant initiatives that contribute to the betterment of our society.

Reflecting our dedication towards CSR, we are proud to be the only organization in the UAE to be accredited and awarded the CSR Label by Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, 3 years in a row. The label is extended to companies’ that implement sustainability across their operations.

What does the future look like for retail banking in the UAE & how can Mashreq contribute towards the growth and progress of the industry?
We are cautiously optimistic about the next 2 years and we are taking share in mortgages, wealth management, loans, cards and business banking. We are a core member of the UAE Bank’s Federation and partner with the UAE Central Bank on all policy related discussions actively. We engage in considerable financial inclusion and literacy endeavors besides.

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